Jiva Technology

‘Conversational’ Q&A

As part of our ongoing assault on the barriers between ‘people who know’ and ‘people who want/need to know’, we’ve been working on an update to that hoary old chestnut: the Q&A site. Part of our approach is to create something that’s truly conversational. After all, if you’ve got a question that needs an answer, how many times does a single, straight answer give you what you looking for? Too often, there’s a bit of clarification etc involved, more like Q&A&Q&A…

So we’ve been taking a good look at Q&A 2.0, or more like Q&A 2.1, and I’m really please to see that’s it’s a lively area of development on the web at the moment, with our friends at Aardvark, Hunch doing some really interesting things. As is so often the case, simple problems are sometimes the hardest to solve and we’ve been really grafting hard to produce something that’s as simple to use and robust as possible. Usability is everything. We’re more than interested to talk and share with anyone in the field, so feel free to get in touch. As usual, our starting point is education, tutors and tutoring, but we don’t expect it to end there.

Academic Earth – a challenge for open education?

Hot on the heels of the announcement of the University of the People another startup with similar goals has been getting its share of publicity.

Academic Earth (these guys certainly like the grand names!) is a startup coming out of the US that pulls together open courseware from  a number of top universities and displays them according to topic with the option to comment and converse around the videos.

So far so good, however Academic Earth is a business and as such has commercial aims for its site which is pretty firmly against the Creative Commons terms that some (not all) of these videos have been released under and some of the institutions involved are unlikely to sit back and allow their content to be reused in this manner.

This is likely to be an interesting test case as I think alot of people are eyeing the increasingly high quality education audio and video content coming out of universities like MIT, Stanford, the Open University etc and wondering how they can spin a money making opportunity out of this increased open attitude.

It would be a pity if these academics started to retreat into their ivory towers if they felt their content was being misused but it also opens up the possibility of a consortium of universities with strong open access models pooling their resources and building their own web based repository of content with community elements.  That would likely shake this space up quite considerably.

To be fair to the team at Academic Earth they seem fully aware of the tightrope they are walking and are trying to work with the institutions so as not to step on anyones toes while still retaining a business model.  I think it will be quite the achievement if they pull this off!

The University of the People

In a pretty amazing PR coup an Israeli entrepreneur, Shai Resef, managed to get worldwide publicity including notably in the New York Times, for his new education based start-up the University of the People.  The article makes some grand claims and glosses over the fact that the plans are mainly speculative at the moment as nothing has really launched and there remain many hurdles to overcome (not least the issue of assessment and accreditation).

The growth of the open learning is undoubted (with the UKs own Open University a leading player with initiatives like OpenLearn and its iTunesU content) but despite the claims in the article I believe peer-to-peer learning remains unproven in many ways (though I do believe it is a useful concept and one that will only become more popular over time) and the reliance of a mish-mash of retired professors, MA level students and volunteers as a kind of virtual faculty does not sound hugely thought out as yet (though there is probably a workable solution in there somewhere) .

Mr Resef does have a history of running successful education themed web businesses, including his current start-up Cramster.com an online homework support network, so he well placed to have the skills and contacts to make this happen.

I’ll be watching this one closely as its an idea I’m really interested in and I think there is a business to be built around the rise in open education that also widens access to higher education, I’m just not quite sure this is it yet.

Spore coming soon

After a long silence Maxis (of The Sims fame) have at last announced a release date for Spore.

Spore has been gestating for several years, Will Wright the creator first talked publicly about at the Game Developers Conference in 2005. You can watch a 35min video of his talk on YouTube, below.

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